Europe Under Siege From People-Smuggling Gangs

Authored by Soeren Kern via The Gatestone Institute,

Hungarian police recently discovered two tunnels used to smuggle migrants into Hungary from Serbia. The tunnels were found at the same time that Hungarian police reported a five-fold increase in the number of migrants attempting to enter Hungary.

Hungary is not alone: Border authorities in countries across the European Union are struggling to stanch renewed flows of illegal migration.

More than 126,500 migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East illegally entered the EU during 2019according to the International Organization for Migration.

On November 29, Hungarian police detained 44 migrants who were found walking along a highway near Ásotthalom, a village in southern Hungary. Police later learned that the migrants had crossed into Hungary from Serbia by crawling through a 34-meter (112-foot) hand-dug tunnel.

The oval tunnel, only 50 cm (20 inches) wide and 60 cm (24 inches) high, had been dug as deep as six meters (20 feet) underground. It had gone undetected because of thick foliage in the area and because the soil that was dug out of the tunnel was dumped into a nearby canal.

A second tunnel was found in the village of Csikéria, around 40 km from Ásotthalom. That tunnel was 21.7 meters (70 feet) long. No migrants were found there. Police said they were deploying drones to search for other possible tunnels.

At the height of the migration crisis in 2015, Hungary built two razor-wire fences on its southern borders to stop or divert the flow of migrants making their way to Western Europe. The newly-discovered tunnels were built underneath those fences.

The number of migrants trying to enter Hungary illegally from Serbia increased significantly in late 2019. Of the 11,808 people who attempted to enter Hungary illegally during the first eleven months of 2019, 2,418 of those attempts were made during just the month of November, according to Gergely Gulyás, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's chief-of staff. By comparison, 5,400 attempted to enter Hungary illegally during the first eleven months of 2018.

On December 1, Szilárd Németh, a senior official at the Defense Ministry, warned that current conditions in Hungary were ripe for a repeat of the migration crisis in 2015 and that the country is now in a "state of crisis." Németh said that more than 100,000 migrants are now gathered in the Western Balkans and although "the situation is still under control," it is "beginning to look like the big crisis in 2015." He added that if the migrants are "let loose" on the Hungarian border, "there could be big trouble, and we must prepare for that possibility."

On January 5, 2020, Németh announced that the Hungarian government would double the number of soldiers patrolling the borders "in light of increasing migration pressure."

Illegal immigration throughout Europe continues unabated. In France, for instance, nearly 20,000 migrants were arrested in 2019, according to the police website France Bleu, which also reported that 189 people smugglers were arrested.

In Britain, The Telegraph newspaper reported that Albanian people smugglers were posting advertisements on social media platforms, including Facebook, promoting their ability to get people into Europe. The ads are accompanied by TripAdvisor-style feedback comments from "satisfied" customers.

The Telegraph, citing police sources, also reported that people smuggling gangs generate profits of up to £6 billion (€7 billion; $8 billion) a year, with migrants often paying more than £10,000 (€12,000; $13,000) to secure illegal entry into the UK.

In Italy, the newspaper Il Giornale reported that people smugglers were charging up to €10,000 to bring Asian migrants to Europe on luxury yachts. The phenomenon was described as "'first-class immigration': with no inflatable boats, no dinghies, no people crammed and crowded en route to Lampedusa," but on real yachts "in conditions considered decent."

Elsewhere in Europe:

Belgium

November 20. A dozen African migrants with spears and machetes attacked a Romanian truck driver at a rest stop on the E40 motorway in Walshoutem. The driver was sleeping in his truck when he was awakened by noise coming from the back of his truck. When he went to investigate, the migrants attacked him. The migrants had been trying to stow away in the truck in an effort to reach the United Kingdom.

October 29. In Antwerp, 28 migrants were arrested at the Berchem railway station after they failed to produce valid residence papers. Federal Police said that the action was directed against illegal immigration and people smuggling and the nuisance in and around the station that goes with it. Police said they were focused on trains moving between Antwerp and Brussels. The arrested persons were from Sudan (17), Eritrea (10) and Ethiopia (1). Eleven were minors.

Britain

December 31. At least 1,892 migrants successfully crossed the English Channel in 2019, according to the BBC. This represents a six-fold increase over 2018, when 283 migrants successfully crossed the Channel, according to the Home Office, which also revealed that 130 people were convicted of people smuggling in 2019.

December 26. Approximately 50 migrants were rescued in the English Channel. The migrants were intercepted while crossing towards the coast near Kent in four small vessels at around 1.30 am. Two other boats were stopped by French authorities and turned back. The migrants were said to be from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.

December 5. Nineteen migrants were stopped while trying to cross the English Channel on an inflatable boat. The migrants — eleven men, four women and four children — were from Iraq and Iran.

December 4. Seventy-nine migrants crossed the English Channel in five small boats. Three boats, carrying 48 people, were intercepted off the coast of Kent, while eleven people were rescued from a fourth vessel. A fifth dinghy was found abandoned on the beach in Kingsdown and 20 people were detained. It was believed to be the second-highest number of migrants to cross the Channel in a single day; 86 arrived on September 10.

November 26. Two people were arrested after ten migrants were found hidden in the back of a truck while it was parked at a gas station on the A14 motorway. Motorists watched on as the group were led out of the back of a truck by police near a main road in Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire. At one point a swaddled baby could be seen being cradled by its mother in the back of the vehicle.

November 25. Maurice Robinson, a 25-year-old truck driver from County Armagh in Northern Ireland who is accused in the deaths of more than three dozen migrants in Essex, pleaded guilty to conspiring with others to assist in illegal immigration. The charges relate to the deaths of 39 Vietnamese people, including children, who were discovered in the back of a refrigerated truck being driven Robinson in what appeared to be a botched people-smuggling operation. One of the victims, 26-year-old Pham Thi Tra My, sent distressed messages to family on the evening of October 22. "I am dying, I can't breathe," the text read. Her family said that they paid £30,000 (€35,000; $38,000) to people smugglers. Her last known location was Belgium.

November 25. Three men were charged with using a camper to smuggle Albanian migrants into the United Kingdom. Border Force officers at Dover said that they found four migrants hidden inside the vehicle when it was stopped after crossing from Dunkirk in France.

November 24. Thirteen migrants were rescued from a small boat crossing the English Channel. The migrants were taken to Folkestone in Kent.

November 17. Four boats carrying 39 migrants arrived in Dover within three hours of each other. The migrants claimed to be Iranian nationals.

November 10. Twenty-two migrants were intercepted off the coast of Dover.

November 9. Eight migrants were found on the back of a truck on the A14 motorway near the village of Spaldwick.

November 8. Samyar Ahmadi Bani, a 35-year-old people smuggler, was sentenced to six years in prison for attempting illegally to bring six Iranians into the United Kingdom.

November 7. Mohammed Asif, a 34-year-old British-Pakistani from Oldham, was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison for illegally obtaining British passports for 11 migrants by using the stolen identities of deceased people.

November 6. Fifteen migrants from Iraq and Iran were found leaving a refrigerated truck on the A350 motorway near Chippenham. The driver, a man in his 50s from Ireland, was arrested but later released on bail.

September 10. Border authorities intercepted 86 people in what was believed to be the highest number of migrants arriving in a single day. The arrivals came after warnings that the closure of a migrant camp in France could prompt a spike in the number of attempted Channel crossings.

Cyprus

November 12. Cypriot authorities rescued 120 Syrian migrants from a boat adrift off the island's southeastern coast. The Syrians were brought ashore in the Cape Greco region after their vessel was sighted six nautical miles (11 km) off the coast of Cyprus. Those on board said they had paid $4,000 each for the journey to the smugglers, who managed to get away.

Finland

October 30. Two Iraqi residents in Finland were suspected of organizing the illegal entry of individuals into the country. Finnish border guards found in the men's possession several photographs of passports that had either been reported stolen or missing. The offenses came to light when Russian border officials barred an Iraqi man carrying a forged French passport from travelling from St. Petersburg to Helsinki. Russian authorities later discovered that the man had arrived in Moscow a day earlier, on an Iranian passport with an authentic Russian visa. A preliminary investigation by the Finland Border Guard unit determined that the Iraqi man had paid €4,500 euros ($5,000) for the French passport.

France

December 31. At least 2,358 migrants were intercepted in the English Channel while attempting to reach Britain in 2019, according to French police. This was a four-fold increase compared to 2018, when 586 migrants were intercepted. In 2019, French police recorded a total of 261 crossings or attempted Channel crossings, mostly involving small inflatable boats that were overloaded with people. Approximately 45% of the crossings were successful, according to police.

December 30. Nineteen migrants were rescued off the coast of Dunkirk in the north of France who were trying to reach Britain on a small pleasure boat.

December 29. A total of 31 migrants were rescued in two boats, one off the coast of Calais and another near Dunkirk.

December 17. Ten migrants were intercepted off the coast of Cap Blanc-Nez. November 24. Eleven migrants were rescued after their boat faced trouble nearly seven miles west of Boulogne. They were suffering from hypothermia.

November 19. Four Iraqis and one Iranian were found in the back of a truck on the A20 motorway near Argenton-sur-Creuse.

November 13. Three Syrians and a Sudanese were found in the back of a truck at a Leroy Merlin depot in Valence.

November 6. Seven migrants in a vehicle were intercepted at a toll booth on the A64 motorway in Hautes-Pyrénées. The driver, a West African with Spanish residency, was also arrested on people smuggling charges.

November 2. Thirty-one Pakistani migrants were found in the back of a truck on the A8 motorway during a police check at a toll booth near Nice. The migrants were sent back to Italy.

October 31. Ten migrants, including from Eritrea, Pakistan and Somalia, were found in the back of a truck at a rest stop on the A9 motorway in Fabrègues. They had been trying to travel from Italy through France to reach Spain.

October 28. Eight Afghan migrants, including two children, were found with hypothermia in a refrigerated truck at the port of Calais.

October 19. Thirteen migrants, including one child, were found in the back of a cattle truck at the port of Calais. The British driver was detained by French authorities. Four others were arrested by the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) in a string of raids in Romford, London and Brentwood in Essex.

Greece

November 4. Greek police found 41 migrants, mostly Afghans, hiding in a refrigerated truck at a motorway in northern Greece. Police stopped the truck near the city of Xanthi for a routine check, arresting the driver and taking him and the migrants to a nearby police station for identification.

Ireland

November 21. Sixteen migrants, believed to be from Iraq and Iran, were found in the back of a truck travelling from France to the Irish port of Rosslare. They were found in a "sealed trailer" on a Stena Line ferry ship sailing from Cherbourg to Rosslare in County Wexford. The migrants reportedly believed they were going to the United Kingdom.

Italy

December 10. Italian police dismantled an Asian migrant smuggling gang that illegally brought thousands of Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis into Italy and other European countries. Eight people were arrested in Italy and one in France. It is estimated that in two years the group managed to move more than 1,000 migrants and made profits of over one million euros.

December 4. Italian authorities allowed two migrant rescue ships carrying a total of 121 migrants to dock at ports in Sicily.

November 24. Italian authorities allowed the Spanish migrant rescue ship Open Arms to disembark 62 African migrants at the southern Italian port of Taranto.

November 23. Five migrants died and 149 were rescued after their boat capsized between Libya and the Italian island of Lampedusa.

November 3. An Italian offshore supply vessel Asso Trenta brought 151 migrants to Sicily after rescuing them in waters off Libya.

November 1. A humanitarian rescue ship with 88 migrants aboard entered Italian waters off Sicily to shelter from strong wind and waves. Sea-Eye said its vessel Alan Kurdi was awaiting assignment of a safe port by Italy.

Slovenia

November 28. Two Syrians hidden in the trunk of a car died when the vehicle carrying eight migrants crashed on a stretch of highway between Slovenia and Italy.

Netherlands

November 19. Dutch authorities found 25 migrants stowed away in a refrigerated container on a truck aboard a cargo ferry bound for Britain shortly after it left the Netherlands. The vessel returned to the Dutch port of Vlaardingen. Two of the migrants were taken to a hospital for treatment while the other 23 received a medical check-up at the port before being taken away by police for processing. The Romanian truck driver was arrested and questioned for possible involvement in people smuggling.

Macedonia

November 27. Twenty-five migrants, including seven minors, were injured when a Bulgarian-registered truck in which they were riding overturned on a highway in the northern town of Kumanovo. Police said 15 Afghans, nine Pakistanis and one Iraqi were transferred to a local hospital. Police said that the migrants entered Macedonia illegally from Greece.

Spain

November 30. Twenty-four migrants landed at Águila beach in the south of Gran Canaria, in Spain's Canary Islands. The migrants had spent five days at sea.

November 29. Two Guinean migrants, aged 19 and 17, were found in a hidden compartment of a vehicle that attempted to cross into the Spanish exclave of Melilla from Morocco. Two Moroccan people smugglers were arrested.

November 27. Four migrants died and at least 10 more were missing after attempting a sea crossing to Spain. The boat was found around 30 nautical miles north of Melilla, a Spanish exclave city located on the northern coast of Africa. Rescuers saved around 55 people, three of whom were in serious condition.

November 18. A van carrying 52 migrants rammed at full speed a border fence at the Spanish exclave of Ceuta. The driver, a 38-year-old Moroccan people smuggler, was detained by Spanish police.

October 7. A Court in Teruel sentenced seven members of a people smuggling gang to a cumulative total of ten years in prison. The group was found guilty of trafficking persons between Iraq and the United Kingdom through Spain. The scheme was discovered when police found 14 migrants inside two refrigerated trucks on the A-23 motorway corridor between Sagunto near Valencia, Teruel and Zaragoza. The ringleader, a 36-year-old Iraqi named Shwana Rafiq, was sentenced to four years in prison; prosecutors had requested 14 years. His wife, Esperanza Martínez, was sentenced to two years in prison; prosecutors had requested 12 years. The others involved were sentenced to six months each; prosecutors had requested five years for each. The light sentences reflect the leniency of the Spanish justice system, which appears to encourage, rather than deter, people smuggling gangs.